On a trip through the Middle East, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain said Wednesday that Iran was training Al Qaida operatives, and then sending them back to Iraq to fight Americans. He had made the same claim the night before on a U.S. radio program. U.S. Intelligence officials say it is unlikely that Shiite-dominated Iran would aid the Sunni insurgents of al-Qaida in Iraq, who target Shiites. Moments after making the comment, and after Sen. Joseph Lieberman whispered in his ear, McCain said Iranians are “training extremists, not al-Qaida.” His campaign said he “misspoke.” (The Washington Post, free registration)
What the commentators said
With Democrats divided and his nomination “secure,” these are “salad days” for McCain, said David Broder in The Washington Post (free registration). But his trip to the region was “a missed opportunity” to showcase his experience to general election voters. He should have assured Americans, and warned Iraq, that Iraqis need to get their house in order to earn the “open-ended commitment” of U.S. forces. Instead he dented “his claim to expertise in the region” by “mistakenly” citing Iranian support for al-Qaida in Iraq.
If McCain made a “gaffe,” it was one shared by “American military intelligence,” said Ed Morrissey in the blog Hot Air. Documents captured more than a year ago show a link between Iran and “at least certain individuals” in al-Qaida in Iraq. In that light, McCain is hardly “uninformed on the situation in Iraq,” as his critics claim, but better able to look past this and other such “false” arguments surrounding the Iraq war.
Claiming McCain was "right the first time" only magnifies the significance of his gaffe, said Moira Whelan in The Huffington Post. McCain admitted he was mistaken, but clearly “conservatives are scared.” They have “already lost 70 percent of the American public,” and the “triangulation of Iraq, Iran, and terrorism” was the “one issue they thought they could win.” McCain could have genuinely misspoken, but his backers know that constructing “a ‘grey area’ where none exists” is his only shot “at winning this election.”